Calling the shots: South Routt’s Cindy Meade one of state’s few female football officials
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Cindy Meade steps onto the football field, she wears her blonde ponytail pulled back in a black hat, and she’s dressed in the black-and-white stripes. She is one of only four female high school football officials in the state of Colorado and she can usually be found calling Soroco, Hayden and Steamboat Springs high school football games.
“I think the women that have come before me have proven that we are good,” Meade said. “We are not second class, we don’t need to just officiate middle school or JV, we are capable of officiating a really good team. But I also think that you have to go into it with a great deal of confidence. I have to walk out on the other field with 80 other males, but the culture has changed enough, that it’s really doable.”
Scott Saucke, president of the Colorado Football Officials Association, said he doesn’t remember when the first female officiated a high school football game in Colorado, but he remembers watching Debra Schamber officiate a game 26 years ago. She is one of the three current female football officials in Denver’s association, while Meade is the only one from rural Colorado.
Meade, an Oak Creek native now living in Phippsburg, grew up watching her dad Chuck Sweetland calling high school games from the sidelines. She grew up with an eye for calling games, but she never had the courage to follow her own aspirations until four years ago.
“(My dad) passed away a couple of years before I started,” Meade said. “Honestly, I don’t know what he would’ve thought, he’s pretty old school.”
Football has been Meade’s favorite sport since she was a kid, and officiating means she gets better than a front-row seat.
When Meade took the football field for the first time, she looked for a sign that she belonged there. She needed to prove to herself, and to a stadium of packed fans, that she could do it.
“My dad always liked to watch Hawks flying,” Meade said. “One of my first days out on the field, right above the stadium, I saw a hawk circling. I was like, ‘Hi dad.’ It felt like a little bit of affirmation that I was doing OK.”
She now belongs there, working alongside officials like Elvis Iacovetto, who have been officiating for 38 years. Iacovetto also worked many years with Meade’s father.
“Cindy does her position, and she’s just part of the crew,” Iacovetto said. “What makes it easier now, there’s a female official in the NFL. They’re becoming accepted. In years down the road, there will be more and more female positions. You go watch a TV game, and there’s a lot of females who know more than the guys. There’s no reason why they can’t do the job.”
Aside from some surprised faces or double-takes, Meade hasn’t met with any animosity.
Then, there’s the funny looks she sometimes gets at Pilates class.
“The lady asked what kind of exercise I do,” Meade said. “And I was like, ‘I mostly do sprinting.’ She goes, ‘You what?’ When I told her I was a football official, she said, ‘Good for you.'”
For Meade, becoming a high school football official was as simple as asking an official at a game how to get started. She went to football camps and practiced at scrimmages with some of the state’s top teams from the Denver area.
With a shortage of officials nationally, Meade encourages people to get involved as a way to give back to their communities.
“All of us are open to talking to anyone that’s interested,” Meade said. “They can even run the chains on the sideline or do things like that. Those positions are always needed, and they would get a feel for it.”